Quebec seeks to join class-action lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, distributors

By Thomas Laberge, The Canadian Press

The Quebec government intends to table a bill in the coming days to enable it to join a class action lawsuit brought by British Columbia against more than 40 pharmaceutical companies accused of downplaying the harmful effects of opioids.

A source familiar with the file confirmed the information to The Canadian Press.

The British Columbia lawsuit dates to 2018 and alleges manufacturers both misrepresented the risk of addiction to opioids and failed to mention side effects and withdrawal symptoms.

It also accuses distributors of allowing opioids to flood the market, contributing to the nationwide addiction crisis.

The province passed a law — the “Opioid Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act” — empowering it to pursue class actions on behalf of the federal government and other provincial governments.

Quebec, Yukon and Nunavut are the only province and territories without similar legislation, which also makes it possible for their governments to join class action lawsuits initiated in other Canadian jurisdictions.

“Although the class action was initiated by British Columbia on behalf of the federal government and the provincial and territorial governments, the adoption of legislation similar to that taken by British Columbia makes it possible, among other things, to promote the application … of legal regimes that are adapted to the situation and similar for all,” Marie-Claude Lacasse, spokesperson for the Quebec Department of Health, said in an e-mail.

B.C’s lawsuit is seeking $85 billion to offset the health-care costs associated with the crisis. Plaintiffs reached a $150-million settlement with pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma Canada in June 2022.

Across Canada, there were more than 38,000 suspected opioid-related deaths between January 2016 and March 2023. Experts have argued the COVID-19 pandemic likely exacerbated the crisis.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2023.

Thomas Laberge, The Canadian Press

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